Let’s start with an introduction. Who are you and how can we find more of your work?
What camera systems were you shooting on this dive?CG: I was shooting the Panasonic GH4 with Panasonic 8mm Fisheye Lens in a Nauticam NA-GH4 housing. I was using some old school light and motion Sunray 1200s from a while back. I just upgraded to Keldan Video 8M Flux.
PW: Same set-up as Connor camera-wise for me, but with one Keldan 4x light for close-focus video of drifting pelagics! At the start of my video (the second angle) you can actually see that my focus was set really close to the lens to film small jellies.
Obviously this was a night dive, so set the stage for us. What’s a night dive like in Monterey and was this interaction with Whiskers (the harbor seal) typical?CG: Night dives in Monterey can be just as fleeting as day dives. You never know what the visibility will be on a given day, but I had already done 2 dives that day at the suggestion of Patrick and some other local underwater photographers who had been out that morning and days previously and talked about how amazing the visibility was along with an influx of wacky gelatinous critters that make great photographic subjects.
I have interacted with Whiskers on 6 out of 6 of my last night dives. I had heard about him before and only seen a flash of him, but recently he's really been hanging out with us. As always, he uses divers' lights to hunt for fish. So, while we were looking for things to point our camera at, he was using the reflected light to sneak up on his prey--mostly small kelp forest fish. He often leaves temporarily, presumably to get a breath or eat his recent catch, so toward the end of the dive we hadn't seen him for a while and we figured he was done for the night and forgot about him. I saw the octopus and crab interaction off the pipe coming back from Metridium Fields and was completely focused on getting a shot of an octopus killing a crab. Out of nowhere, Whiskers returned and nabbed the octopus and we were completely stunned until we broke into laughter because it was so perfectly Whiskers to do that.
PW: I’ve never had a bad night dive in Monterey. The viz is always hit or miss in our area, but at night your light focuses your attention and shrinks the world into a very small area. I always see something new at night, from a new behavior or a new member of the night-crew clocking in. That night, I was still reeling from amazing gelatinous drifter dives from earlier in the day and I couldn’t wait to see what the night might bring—Connor said he was down to go for a dip and so that was that.
As for Whiskers, he showed up on the Breakwater scene in late 2013—he’s actually the same seal kissing my forehead in my profile picture. He was just a playful pup back then, and he started using lights at night to hunt for perch and small rockfishes. As the months went on, it became a near-guarantee you’d see him on a night dive. He was so predictable that I was able to film him hunt for a Navy research project in 2014 looking at how seals use their whiskers to detect their prey at night.
However he does it, by sight or sound, he’ll find you if you’re the only divers at the Breakwater. I first noticed him on our dive at the Metridium Fields, a good 100 yards from the beach and far from the breakwater wall he usually hunt on. Because we were focused on jellies and other inverts in the water column, you could tell he was disappointed in our choice of subject and I didn’t see much of him. By the time Connor found the octopus battling the swimmer crab, I had completely forgotten about Whiskers. As I moved in to get a shot (without ruining Connor’s), Whiskers swoops in and obliterates the octopus, which inked everywhere. I was honestly shocked and surprised, hence the Santa Claus laughing!
Since this video has blown up online what has it been like? How does it feel to be a viral sensation mastermind duo?CG: It's been really funny to watch people's reactions to the video. Patrick and I originally uploaded it with some boxing/wrestling sound effects that really made viewers engaged when it felt like the octopus and crab were in ring, battling. I've seen a lot of funny comments about Santa Claus, as I think Patrick's laugh has an eerily similar cadence and pitch. At first I was pretty surprised at how quickly it spread through Facebook just by posting it to my timeline, but then I realized it was kind of the perfect viral content: short, action packed, interesting subjects, good sound effects, and a comical surprise ending.
PW: Ha! Mastermind duo! Thanks Robin! My day job is social media, so I knew this thing could potentially blow up. It was cool to see it grow organically on two different platforms—I posted mine on Instagram, and it was going crazy. Connor posted his on Facebook, and it was getting thousands of views. By the time we licensed both clips together, we had received a bunch of media requests separately and had our content shared back to us from our friends. When it blew up on Reddit, Gizmodo and finally Nat Geo, it was so cool to see our friends commenting “Hey! That’s my buddy’s video!” all across the Internet — Monterey pride! Also, thanks Whiskers — you’re finally paying us back for all those shots you’ve ruined!
Any tips for fellow underwater shooters who want to share their content online and have it blow up like this?CG: I think all of us who dive with a camera around Monterey probably are sitting on more of a gold mine than we realize. It's a pretty special place and subjects we shoot all the time and might seem 'boring' or unimpressive to us or other locals are likely incredible to other viewers. Video is probably going to go farther than photographs, but make sure it's short and action packed if you really want to make waves on the internet. I would just suggest getting your content out there as much as you can. I'm guilty of this sometimes, too!
PW: Our original edits had funny overdubs of WWE wrestling and boxing, and both videos were short and to the point. You want to have “thumb-stopping” content for stuff to go big. Make sure you post natively to social if that’s where you want the engagement. I originally posted a link to my Vimeo page on Facebook instead of posting native, while Connor posted his directly, and you can see how insanely better Facebook’s algorithm treated his post. Then, make sure you act quick! We learned that companies will try to license your stuff really fast, and as it spreads organically from your social media pages, a friend of a friend of a friend will see it and try to buy it up to monetize. Holding out for a few extra days leaves you open for the video to be stolen and misattributed as it grows (which happened to my IG video), in which case you will lose credit for it. But at the end of the day, don’t go looking for viral content—go diving, and share what you saw, and the world will reward you when you get something cool! Harddrive prison for content is unjust!
Parting thoughts to share?CG: I would just add that this kind of thing would not be possible without such a phenomenal dive community here in Monterey and especially the group of underwater photographers who continue to push each other, even indirectly, to become more creative and better overall artists. Of course, Backscatter Underwater Photo/Video is a huge asset in being up to date on the best gear and I frequently go into the store to talk with the team there about the best way to capture my ideas. They're an awesome group of talented people. Thanks!
PW: Ditto to everything Connor said. Thanks so much to Backscatter for being such a supportive business for budding underwater photographers. They’re at the center of a really rad community of underwater shutterbugs that provide a constant source of motivation to get out in the cold and see what will happen. Without Backscatter’s staff, their contests and their support, I never would have had the experience nor the equipment to capture that video. Also, special thanks to Joe Platko, the constant instigator for local underwater photographers who called me frantically to get out of work and go diving with the pelagics! This one’s for you buddy!